From the feelgoods (1997 PGA) to the follies (1999 British), every major has an identity, some more appealing than others. The 2011 Masters may not have been the greatest golf tournament ever played, but it had to leave a lasting imprint on those who watched it. Ten players had a realistic chance to win once Rory McIlroy’s final-round struggles turned into a full-blown meltdown, making this one of the most unique Masters Sundays ever.
The constant shuffle atop the leaderboard bordered on chaotic, but the confusion only amplified the suspense. Perhaps the most amazing thing about all the tumult, particularly in the last hour, is that nobody lost the tournament. Charl Schwartzel flat-out won with birdies on each of the final four holes, an outrageous end to a remarkable day full of interesting improbabilities.
McIlroy’s closing 80 was the highest score by a 54-hole leader since Ken Venturi in 1956. It’s hard not to feel bad for the kid, but from this viewpoint, it’s also difficult to think the collapse won’t hurt him down the road. To miss so many short putts on the front nine but still hold a share of the lead on the 10th tee, then respond to the fresh start with one of the worst shots in Masters history, then yank a fairway wood into the maximum-security prison left of the 10th green and walk off with a triple bogey – name one other emerging superstar forced to carry such heavy baggage so early in his career?
Arnold Palmer and Greg Norman made a mess of majors in their day, but both had already won the game’s biggest titles before their train wrecks. McIlroy slept on the lead for three nights, a rarity at any tournament, much less one of this magnitude. Clearly, he didn’t have the mental stamina to finish the job Sunday. At least Sergio usually made it to the bitter end.
Like Garcia, McIlroy is a prodigious talent and still very young, although it’s worth noting that the artist formerly known as El Nino remains majorless. Handling adversity was never one of Sergio’s strengths, of course, and though McIlroy seems far more capable of dealing with this setback, golf is a funny game. Who would have thought Woods would blow a chance to revive his career by missing a handful of putts inside 5 feet?
For everything Tiger did on Sunday’s front nine to rush to the top of the leaderboard, you could make a case that this was his most uncharacteristic loss ever at a major. Throughout his 13-year stretch of dominance, the only short putt of consequence Woods failed to convert came on the 71st hole of the aforementioned ’99 U.S. Open. Two of the misses this past weekend clearly were inside 3 feet – at the 11th hole Saturday and 12th Sunday – but it was the 6-footer curler for eagle at the par-5 15th that severely damaged Woods’ pursuit of a 15th major title.
We saw a bunch of the old Tiger magic, but we also saw a guy who looked like an impostor in the red shirt. We saw a lot of guys play well down the stretch and a winner who played out of his mind, which all adds up to a Masters unlike any we’ve seen before.